Thursday, August 07, 2003

The Kingdom is Now

In Hebrews 8:6-10 the word covenant appears six times. This is the same Greek word that is translated into testament, as in the Old and New Testament. Indeed, it may have made more sense to call the two main divisions of the bible the Old and New Covenant.

One way of looking at the bible is that the Old Testament tells of a Kingdom to come, and the New Testament tells of a Kingdom established.

No argument there? That sounds reasonable you say? Well, as it turns out a huge fraction of evangelical Christians do not believe that—or at least they are in churches whose pastors were trained from a different perspective, the dispensationalist perspective.

Dispensationalism is a movement that began in 19th century England and quickly spread throughout America, thanks in large part to the introduction of the Scofield Bible. Annotated by C. I. Scofield, the notes in the Scofield bible still serve as "the bible" for classic dispensationalism.

In those notes, we read: "this gospel era was not in the view of the prophets at all;"

To a dispensationalist, the New Testament is not the proclamation of a Kingdom Inaugurated. It is the description of an era, the present era, which was unforeseen by the prophets. A mystery. A surprise. A quick parenthetical insert in redemptive history.

Not a Kingdom inaugurated. A Kingdom delayed.

A Kingdom delayed until after the rapture and tribulation. Sound familiar? It is precisely the Left Behind end times view. The pretribulation, premillennial eschatology.

Those who hold that end times view fall into one of three groups. (1) Proud dispensationalists (2) Those who have been taught that view by dispensationalist pastors (or books of fiction) who never bothered to show how it arose from the basic tenets of dispensationalism and (3) Those who believe the eschatology but reject dispensationalism.

The third group is fascinating. Essentially they have to argue that dispensationalists, starting from a flawed theology, nevertheless uncovered the correct eschatology.

Anyway, the end-times controversy is not really that important. At least I don’t think so. The crucial point is the outright violence to scripture inherent in the fundamental dispensationalist axiom that the prophets did not anticipate this present era, because the Kingdom is not at hand—it was delayed.

Well, what does scripture say?

In some sense, we cannot use passages from John the Baptist's preaching and Christ's ministry, passages such as Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Math. 3:2). Dispensationalists can argue that such passages still do not anticipate that (a) Christ would offer the Kingdom to the Jews (not such offer is recorded in scripture) and (b) they would reject the offer, necessitating a delay in the ushering in of the Kingdom. In other words, John the Baptist is a prophet with a false revelation.

It is better to look at the teachings of the apostles following the resurrection. Do they teach that Christ offered the Kingdom, but it was unexpectedly rejected, causing us to enter this unforeseen dispensation? Or do they teach that the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated?

One could say that the entire book of Hebrews should put the question to rest. And one would be right. Hebrews does not teach of a Christ in a holding pattern. However, lets look at just a few passages from elsewhere.

What does Paul teach about the current era: "Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. (Acts 3:24). He does not add "alas, they were wrong," or "alas, we will have to wait thousands of more years for 'those days'." No, Paul is clearly teaching that those days spoken of by the prophets are now.

Paul also teaches: But I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—(Acts 26:22). He is again verifying that the prophets got it right, not wrong.

Dispensationalists have it completely backwards. They teach that the prophets understood what they were saying but got it wrong. In truth, Peter teaches us something more in line with God’s sovereignty: the prophets were somewhat clueless about their own prophesy, but still managed to get it right. For Peter writes:

9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1Pet 1:9-12).

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